Where the light gets in

I had a very profound thought during the night. I know I’ve read it somewhere but I can’t think where.

A couple of days ago I was telling someone how it went with my son on Thursday and I made the very sad but nonetheless true statement that ‘my heart will always be broken.’

Even as I said it, I sensed the truth; the immense power in those six words.

I was reflecting on this during the night and almost immediately another thought came to me, almost from outside myself, carrying the wisdom and grace of a deeper realisation:

‘This is where the light gets in.’

Suddenly the balance shifted from despondency to hope. I had a wonderful visual image of God’s divine grace surrounding the broken pieces of my heart like a pure golden light, filling in all the cracks and making it stronger and more beautiful than ever.

There is always a choice. Closing down to protect a broken heart seems the best option, but it leaves one cut off, alone and in darkness, where healing is impossible.

Jesus healed people. He restored them through their own faith. At least once he asked the person if they wanted to be healed. I don’t believe that he was suggesting they didn’t or stating the obvious; rather, he was inviting them to open their heart and accept what is possible through faith. Literal or metaphoric, the healing he brought upon others was only made possible through an open heart, which is the ultimate gift of love.

It’s all too easy to protect one’s heart from further pain and become hurt and bitter. This is the challenge of being human, especially in regard to deep traumas that laid the entire foundation of a life. Each of us has our own path to walk and obstacles to navigate, as well as the particular tools to help us through. Thankfully for us, there are so many teachers, past and present, who have pointed to the truth that we all carry within.

And what is this truth? In my experience, we exist in Divine love. We are eternal beings, filled with the grace of God/Spirit/The Divine, here living a very limited human life in all its glory and tragedy. The heart is the bridge between the two. When we keep it open, the love and light of God’s grace is always available to love and heal and restore us no matter how broken we feel.

Growing and transcending

I’m aware that each time I write a truly vulnerable account of how I’m feeling about my disabled son I probably lose a few readers – understandably so because not everyone wants to read about someone’s suffering, especially those seeking a more uplifting story – so I’m drawn to say thank you to those who are drawn to read my experiences and feelings, regardless of reason. Sometimes I feel very alone and it helps to write it down and know people are reading my words, even when I am going around in circles with the same feelings and issues, or at least seem to be. I really do appreciate it.

I know in my heart that each of us is on a spiritual journey to realising our true self – our Christ self, Divine indwelling, soul – whichever term you feel most comfortable with -and we can’t drop off the path no matter what we do or feel. Sometimes life can feel completely unbearable and I think it is important to be honest about the suffering because it is the freedom of speaking the truth that ultimately saves us. As Carl Jung (I think) said, ‘suffering can’t always be worked through, only transcended.’ I cannot escape my pain. It just is. It exists in a state of consciousness that is fully human and I love and respect it. It will never leave me for it is part of me. But it is not ALL of me. And therein lies the answer.

I think it was Mother Teresa who said ‘when you know better, do better.’ We experience life in accordance with our level of consciousness, so once we grow spiritually, we experience life, and God/the Divine, from a higher state of awareness. However, growth is not a linear process, as I know all too well. I have meditated and prayed for years and feel I have a healthy relationship with my spirituality and the Divine. I am always growing and evolving and increasing my capacity for unconditional love. The difficulty is when old wounds get activated, or, as Eckhart Tolle says, the pain body, and once again I am lost in the pain of wanting what can never be. The pain body is the emotional element of the conditioned self – who we believe ourselves to be in relation to the outer world. Some people call this the ego, and indeed I have done sometimes, but I dislike the term, maybe because it reduces it to an unpleasant sounding entity rather than being part of my being which evolved to try and help me live in this world, however misguided it has been. It also seems to suggest that my emotions are ‘wrong’ on some level. My emotions over my son and wishing things were different are not ‘wrong’; they simply are. I can’t imagine anyone in my situation not feeling this way; at least, not without a huge and permanent shift in consciousness to the extent that one’s personal history just doesn’t matter any more because one abides purely in a state of love. This ideal was perfectly executed in the story of Jesus.

Regardless of what I, or anyone else, think about the whole mystery of Jesus, whether he was real, a myth, whether he was the only ‘son of God’ or pointing to the potential that exists in all of us, it highlights that Jesus was both fully human AND fully Divine. He often referred to himself as the ‘Son of Man’ i.e son of humanity, rather than God! He fully embraced his emotions, his humanness, his fear, anger, reluctance, sense of abandonment etc. He befriended the hurting, lost and broken people. He must have felt terribly alone in a world that wasn’t ready for him and did not understand him. He suffered unimaginably horribly in the hands of others, feeling betrayed and alone, all the while trusting in God’s plan for his life.

The most important part of the entire story: Jesus was not left to die; he was resurrected into his Christ self which transcended all his pain and suffering and restored him to his Divine identity. His old self had to die for the new self to be born. Whatever one believes about this, there is a lesson in letting go and having faith, that our suffering does not have to define us, even if it is part of us for a time (even a long time; indeed, some of us live with deep hurts our entire lives and only find relief on physical death). The story of Jesus has always brought me comfort because this is a man who went through the worst torture that I imagine is possible to man, all the while feeling abandoned by God, yet loving and forgiving those who inflicted such suffering on him, who then transcended it all; a personal reminder of the renewal of all life and our own eternal nature.

When I feel crucified by my personal circumstances and unable to find relief in any of my life’s blessings due to feeling consumed by wishing things had turned out differently, I remember that fighting against my suffering will not work. My suffering results from a part of me who understandably feels devastated and angry and let down by life. I also know that I carry within me some part of the Christ mystery – my Divine spark – which both encompasses and transcends this human life. It is a daily juggle, holding those aspects of my being, but maybe knowing they are there and perfectly okay, is enough.

Between acceptance and resistance

Acceptance seems like the holy grail of spirituality and I understand why; it’s opposite is resistance, and as we all know, what is the point resisting something we can’t change? It’s only going to make us suffer.

I’m not even sure it has to be one or the other, black or white. Maybe there are shades of grey whereby I’m not accepting or resisting but stuck in some limbo state in between the two.

Only that, too, equals suffering.

Today I had to go down to the local government office to sort out a financial mess on my son’s behalf. I was told my son needed to accompany me so they could see him for themselves and verify that he lacks capacity to handle his own affairs. Due to his level of need, two male carers had to escort him, so we were quite a group heading into the building. I knew my son wouldn’t cope for very long and he didn’t; he became agitated and vocal, catching the attention of everyone else in the room, until the carers took him out for a walk while I spoke to a representative. I’m relieved that he at least didn’t lay on the floor which is what happened elsewhere in public last week, and he didn’t hit anyone, which is always a massive concern when he has a meltdown. No small blessings there.

The stress of the very short visit – in total, it probably took around half an hour, most of it on my own as my son had already been taken out by the carers – left me feeling so weighed down and hopeless. It reminds me of my desperation as a young mother trying to control my son who, as a six year old, ran riot around a restaurant gabbing food off people’s plates. Those times have gone. I don’t have to – and I simply couldn’t – manage him on my own anymore, but the same stress, the same heartbreak, remains.

I wonder if anyone who does not have a severely disabled son can even imagine what it is like. Children play up, especially when they’re young, but in time you can reason with them and loosen that all-consuming hold on them as they start to grow and value their independence. I have never lost that hold on my son. He is all consuming. He is unpredictable. He is terrifying. You never know what he is going to do. The only real way I have learnt to cope is detach myself. Not in the sense I won’t do all I can for him because I will always do that – but emotionally draw back, because otherwise the pain is too much to bear.

Maybe this is what I mean about being in limbo – not quite accepting, not quite resisting. This is my life and I cannot say I accept it. I often think about how it could have been. I grieve for the child I never had and never will have now. I grieve for the child – now adult – that I do have. I can’t imagine a day where that grief stops. I long for simple conversations with my son, Facebook comments, texts – the kind of stuff most parents take for granted. I long to see my son grow up and become independent – drive a car, go to university, get married. He will never do any of those things. He doesn’t have any concept of those things. I’m the one who wants them. I’m the one who feels the loss.

Am I resisting? If so, who wouldn’t? I don’t know, there are much better parents out there than me who devote their lives 24/7 to their disabled kids because they feel that depth of unconditional love and it’s second nature. I’ve never been that person. I’ve been ill all my adult life with chronic illnesses that nearly destroyed me. I simply never had the capacity to give my son that much of myself. I did the best I could. I still don’t know if it was enough but I know it was all I had.

I guess I’m only hurting myself by constantly thinking ‘what if’? But it’s impossible to stop. Maybe my acceptance lies there, in accepting this is where I am and how I feel and that life is so plain hard because I didn’t ask for this. I don’t have to be all saintly and spiritual about it if I don’t want to be. I don’t have to pretend. I can say to God that I wish things were different. I can feel God’s love for me and for my son and remember that Jesus was crucified in the flesh and in our own unique ways so are all of us in living a human life.

Anyone who copes with similar and has found a way to cherish their relationship with their child and their life as it is, I truly admire you. I journey on.

Witnessing a seagull’s near miss

This morning I witnessed a hit and run. The victim was a seagull, but that doesn’t make it any less upsetting for me.

Thankfully the seagull flew away, stunned but seemingly unharmed.

It had been among its flock which were picking at a large animal carcass in the middle of the road. One or two cars came by and slowed down and the seagulls mostly dispersed but one or two were too obsessed with the bone to worry about the cars.

As I was watching and waiting for a moment to go into the road and remove the bone, a car drove along with no intent to slow down and very deliberately drove at the flock; most got out of the way, one did not and hit the bumper with a thud. By some miracle it then flew off.

At this point I shot into the road and moved the carcass to a safer place while the seagulls watched, no doubt wondering what I was doing with their treasure.

The incident left me shaking and upset. Is a seagull’s life worth nothing to some people? Maybe the driver decided it was the seagulls ‘fault’ for being in the road in the first place. Would he say the same about a small child?

I find the lack of basic compassion really hard to deal with. I know that’s part n parcel of living in this world. I know many people don’t have empathy for birds, especially ones they deem a nuisance, such as seagulls. I’m not ignorant of those facts. I just find it really difficult to wrap my head around the intentional desire to hurt a living being and cause it suffering and pain. We live in a hurting world, I know. Hurt people hurt people (or animals. Or birds). It’s just…very painful to witness.

Patience and compassion are two wonderful virtues that are much needed in this world. No creature is less deserving than any other. No being deserves to suffer simply for going about its business finding food. I know some really ARE a nuisance and need to be killed for our own sake, but we can kill humanely. We do not have to inflict suffering. The intention to do so says nothing about the creature and everything about the person.

God bless every creature, including humans, who suffers and/or fallen victim to any one else’s suffering. Which, lets face it, is probably most.

Keeping the faith

Not for the first time I feel like Job in the Bible asking ‘why’ in the midst of despair.

Some time ago I mentioned to a therapist that I often wondered ‘why me?’ during my painful struggles and she said that when she said the same many years ago people in her circle used to respond ‘why not you?’ There is a bitter truth in that. We cry out from the depths of our hearts. Our pain feels so deeply personal. So much so that God/the Universe must have done this to us. Like Job, we feel wronged. We know we’ve always tried our best, or even if we haven’t, we’ve made up for it somehow. So why did this terrible event/situation/tragedy occur? No one has or ever will have an answer to that beyond that suffering is a given and no one is spared. It’s just that some people seem destined to suffer much more or less and the only way forward is to somehow trust that it’s all unfolding how it’s meant to be because otherwise it would be different than it is.

Yesterday I heard that my son is being evicted from his residential home. I knew how much the staff were struggling with him but somehow I never thought this would actually be the outcome. I feel bone-crushingly sad. I have no idea where he will go now. It could have been such a lovely home for him. Those are the words I seem to constantly repeat in relation to my son: could have been. I pulled out all the stops to try and make things easier for him so that his behaviour may improve but it hasn’t worked. I know there is a lot of hurt in those words. I feel affronted that none of it made any difference. It’s a deep-seated wound that nothing I’ve done has made a difference to my son but I know that isn’t true. It springs from my sadness that I wish life had been different for both of us. And I know if I hadn’t become so sick/hospitalised and that if my ex wasn’t the way he is, things certainly would be very different now.

And therein lies my struggle. It drags me down like a lead weight until I feel I have no strength to fight. Giving in feels too much, too painful. So I frantically search for a way out, considering all the addictive tendencies I’ve had in the past as a way to escape unbearable feelings, but not able to bring myself to go there because I’m too aware, too conscious of my actions and their consequences now. I’m left with raw pain that isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. I can’t cry either so I’m just staring listlessly into space and waiting for someone to ring me – my son’s social worker, the home, a family member – so I don’t feel so desperately alone with it all. At the moment it seems the social worker will call tomorrow. I don’t yet know the way forward.

I’m remembering a scene from the movie ‘The Shack’ (wonderful movie, btw) where the guy is in a boat which is breaking up, a metaphor for his terrible pain and struggle over the abduction and murder of his young daughter, and Jesus walks up to the boat, on the water, telling him to ‘have faith’ and ‘look at me’ because each time the guy focused on his suffering, the boat broke apart more and water poured in. Eventually, the guy found his faith and climbed out of the boat onto the water with Jesus, finding himself able to walk back to the shore. This is a natural re-telling of the Bible story where Jesus told his disciples to have faith. I don’t believe the walking on water was literal, although who knows it may have been, but a metaphor for our ability to overcome our emotional pain when we keep the faith in something bigger than ourselves, whether that’s God, the Universe, or our own soul/higher/Christ self.

The Bible is all about faith in the midst of terrible suffering, as well as the human need to cry out and ask ‘why’ when we are hurting. Whilst there’s never any clear answers to why we suffer, what’s certain is no one is alone, and while life is desperately hard sometimes, with faith we find the strength to keep moving forward.

Fear, love, guilt: Tomorrow’s visit

I’m visiting my son again tomorrow and my anxiety about it is through the roof. I’m not scared of him, I’m scared of his suffering. I’m scared of seeing him hurting because he’s missing his dad, and not understanding the practical issues that his dad has not taken care of. He doesn’t know the details, all his knows is that his dad has not visited and that he is unable to do certain things that he used to. He doesn’t know his dad has failed him. In some ways that feels even more heartbreaking.

I’m no stranger to suffering. I watched my father die of cancer and all I felt was love. I had no fear because in that moment I allowed everything to be as it was. I felt great empathy for his pain but I was not afraid. I knew what was coming and so did he. I sat with him until the very end and surrendered to the love that was guiding his journey home.

My son’s suffering frightens me. I feel a raw, primal instinct to protect him from hurt, but I know that’s impossible. His vulnerability and lack of comprehension increases my desire to keep him safe always. I also know that my fear of his suffering is probably tied up in a large amount of guilt. It’s displaced because I’ve never let him down – I’ve always done my best for him under difficult circumstances – again, always. But somehow the guilt is still there, probably linked to my grief around parenthood in general, that I was sick and unable to be the kind of parent I wanted, and that my son, due to his needs, wasn’t able to be the child I wanted either. My self-image is clouded in guilt and sadness and a sense that I have failed.

Maybe the fear of my son’s suffering is not only because I fear the pain that comes with knowing he is hurt, but fear that it will break me as a mother because I didn’t have the relationship I wanted with him and his pain presses on that wound. His pain will force me to come face to face with myself as his parent without running from those feelings. I will have to sit with them and learn. Relationships are our greatest spiritual teachers after all. They are our mirrors, showing us where love is most needed.

Unconditional love goes beyond images and labels but leaves out nothing. It embraces fear, pain and grief. This isn’t about trying not to feel scared or pretending I don’t feel guilty. It’s allowing all those feelings to be there and giving them to the light. It’s being with the reality of the situation, which is that it is hard, and all sorts of issues are activated, including my own abandonment wounds. I can only do my best in any given moment and leave the rest to the Divine light/the universe to take care of. That’s what I’ve always done for my son and will continue to do, no matter how scared I am.

‘Love is the only answer’ Matt Kahn

I was wondering where to start and then I thought where better than love?

Matt Kahn is one of my favourite spiritual teachers at this point in my journey. His philosophy is that whatever we are feeling, thinking, or dealing with – we love that. Sounds simple but it’s very, very hard to remember and put into practice, as I have personally found.

As humans we are hardwired to want to avoid pain and seek pleasure. Well, of course we are. Who would want pain (unless they’re a masochist)? Avoiding it ensures our survival as a species. Plus no one wants to feel bad. I have several chronic illnesses and HATE feeling unwell and limited. We often don’t like emotions such as anger and jealousy and consider them negative and unspiritual, coming from the ego rather than the spark of Divinity that we are. We may try to stuff them down and focus more on so-called positive emotions such as happiness and joy. That’s natural.

The problem may arise when we resist aspects of our experience so much that we create more suffering for ourselves. We may feel angry or jealous and get upset with ourselves for feeling that way, thereby adding another layer of suffering on top of the feelings we are already experiencing. In my case, struggling with feeling exhausted and unwell and wishing I was healthy creates resistance and more suffering. But lofty spiritual ideals such as ‘accepting everything that happens’ don’t really work for me either. Do we really have to accept everything? Really??

Matt Kahn’s answer to this is to love. If we are feeling angry, notice it and love the part of us that is angry. If we are in physical pain, love the part of us that is hurting or, if that is impossible, love the part of us that can’t love the part that is hurting. The answer is always love. I don’t have to accept my illnesses but I can love the part of me who cannot accept them. I don’t have to accept the suffering in the world but I can love the part of me who cannot accept it. This works because the relationship with ourselves is reflected out into the world and vice versa. When we love the supposedly unlovable parts of ourselves we set them free. Not only does this bring us to greater internal peace, it is the key to a more peaceful world.